Gratuitous Edgy Overdone
October 7, 2016
Filed under Opinion
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Many people enjoy the rush of fear, but if you’re easily scared, you may just want a generally dark story to experience. Well, maybe you would if modern entertainment could tell the difference between a dark, mature story and an edgy, juvenile mess.
Before criticizing edge, it is important to know exactly what it is. The meaning of the word has been nebulous at best, ranging from an offensive nature, nihilism, a simple dark tone, and it once even meant relevance and intelligence. However, I believe that while the “dark tone” definition is close, it is a bit more complicated. A dark setting will drag the characters and the world around them through various bad situations and characters will make bad choices that they have to deal with serious consequences for. The morality is much more grey, with little to no characters that are entirely good. The setting will use its harshness and difficult situations to really say something and teach anything from a message of hope to the acceptance of a harsh reality. The characters will grow from their trials and end up as better people in a hard world.
Edge, on the other hand, is a fine line away from a good dark setting. It has all the ingredients of a dark setting, but there is one fatal difference: there is no point. There is no point. No important lessons are learned by the reader or characters. The characters do not grow from the things that happen to them, their bad decisions have no consequences, and everything feels unpleasant, and not in a way that enhances the atmosphere of the story or experience of the consumer in any meaningful way. It does not even need a dark setting to fester- most adult cartoons suffer from overuse of edginess.
Adult cartoons are relatively new. Some, like BoJack Horseman and South Park take their dark humor and “offensive” tones and use them to actually deliver real messages and clever satire. The Simpsons was clever for a long time as well, but most people agree that it has been reduced to a shadow of its former self. However, one cartoon rises above them all in terms of pointless edge: Family Guy. Family Guy was once a decent show, even if many people saw it as an attempt to cash in on the success of The Simpsons. However, the show has certainly drifted away from the now mostly bland, inoffensive Simpsons, but in the worst possible way. Family Guy is incredibly edgy. Where the show was once a slightly offensive family show that occasionally delivered some moments of kindness or real lessons, not to mention the most important part: jokes that were actually funny. However, the show has become its own antithesis. As the theme song bemoans overly violent and raunchy media, the show has become the very thing it admitted was overused: a violent, edgy mess.
Of course, insulting a television show without any evidence would be foolish. But when it comes to Family Guy, there are more examples than can be listed without writing a novel. In the interest of time, I will talk about one episode that showcases the pointless edge better than any other: Seahorse Seashell Party. Despite the name that does not suggest any edge, make no mistake: this is edge of the worst kind. The episode is split in half: one storyline is about hallucinogenic drugs. The issue is not handled with any respect or integrity. While hallucinogens are not exactly a sensitive topic, they are used purely to fill the episode with unpleasant imagery that takes the plot nowhere and says absolutely nothing important about any characters.
Of course, darkness is not always bad for a story and it is important to understand when it can be done right. Moving to the world of literature, Joe Abercrombie’s The First Law series is a perfect example of a good dark setting. It is difficult to speak of its genius without ruining some incredibly well delivered twists, but there are a few things that can be said. For one, there is not a single character without significant flaws that play a large role in their stories. Some are more easily seen than others, such as the fact that one of the three central characters is quite literally a torturer for a living. The world around the characters is not friendly either, with the four main nations being The North, a frozen wasteland home to warmongering barbarians, The Union, a greedy and inequality-ridden world power, Gurkhul, a nation led by cannibalistic religious fanatics, and Styria, a treacherous hive of scum, villainy, and crooked nobility. Despite the dark setting, the story still manages to keep the reader engaged through compelling characters, a gripping storyline, and clever subversion of the fantasy genre. It is not “edgy” because the dark setting is incredibly important to the story and makes it better, not worse. Even the deeply flawed characters are still a pleasure to read about and root for.
In summary, there is a fine line between a dark story and an edgy one. But why is edgy media even successful if it’s so poorly crafted by nature? Well, the answer is that it really does reach its target audience: kids who want to make the transition to more “grown up” humor and entertainment. In the early 2000s, most children’s media was inoffensive or based on gross-out humor. Sometimes, when a kid decides that they want to be seen as “mature” they tend to distance themselves from their childhood. With so many kids from the early 2000s growing up on inoffensive and stereotypically childish content, they moved on to edgy, stereotypically adult content. In some cases resulting in overexposure to gratuitous dark humor. However, there is hope. Children’s media has improved as of late, with shows like Gravity Falls and Star Wars Rebels appealing to more than one demographic. Perhaps, with more options the edge obsession will finally fade away and be just another outdated trend.